He Said, She Said: How Liz Phair Took the Rolling Stones to 'Guyville'

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You've said the dominant emotion fueling this project was determination.
I was so disrespected. Being a woman in music back then, at least the level I was, was like being their bitch. Sit there, look pretty, bring us drinks and we'll talk about what music is good and bad. And it was almost understood that women's taste in music was inferior. There were a few ballsy women who would get in there and say, "Well, I think Green River, once they became Soundgarden..." I was so angry about being taken advantage of sexually, being overlooked intellectually. A lot of Exile in Guyville was about an "I'll show them." That was a major emotion in my life, pent up for a long time. Even when I was young at dinner tables with the extended family, listening to the men argue and the women sort of sit there — that's just the way it was back then.

At what point did you realize you had matched up 18 songs?
It was conscious the entire time. A lot of the songs I had already and I'd put them into slots and move them around. I remember when I got "Fuck and Run" for "Happy" I was like, OK, this totally, totally works. But stuff would shift, then I had to write a few. You know how they say in a fiction novel it doesn't have to accurate for the world as long as it's internally consistent? I was making a very internally consistent piece and I didn't have anyone else's head in my head. So as crazy as it was, it made perfect sense to me and it was satisfying.

Can you talk about how "Help Me Mary" relates to "Rip This Joint"?
"Rip This Joint" is totally about their lifestyle and I'm like, sitting in the apartment when these rock stars come in being like, and look at the mess you make, I feel extremely uncomfortable with you here. It was Nash [Kato] and Blackie [Onassis] and all those guys from Urge Overkill and Material Issue and stuff. I'm like, did you guys not realize how you impact me? "Soul Survivor" is such a song about like, coming through on the other end, battered, bashed, but kind of at peace with it. And so is the last song on my record. It's sort of saying, all right, I understand my part in this, and I don't really understand it either. The first song is an accusation and the last song is yes, I've played a part in this too.

I thought I heard the harmonica reference from "Sweet Virginia" at the end of "Divorce Song."
Is that the song it corresponds to? 'Cause no, I would do it song by song. "Turd on the Run" is "Girls, Girls, Girls," and that to me was like, if you're a turd on the run and you can get away with it, well look what I can get away with. It's sort of like I did "Fergalicious" before Fergie did it. I get away with murder… that was my response.

But there are definite musical allusions in addition to the lyrical questioning and answering, right?
We tried to sound Stonesy. Don't forget there was Brad Wood and Casey Rice involved in this and they knew my whole deal with the song by song. They were down with it, so they were completely coming at it, not emotionally, but in terms of musical reference. I wasn't out there going, I think that tone is a little muddy — they were doing that. They were the ones creating the Stonesy sound and Brad was extremely meticulous about his drumming, he'd be like, this is the way, four on the floor, it's a straight-ahead beat, he would talk, talk, talk about what the Stones did. They were pulling plenty of weight making it sound the way it did, but really it just sounds like an indie record. They were using as much of their fantasy as I was. God love 'em, they took my crazy idea. And I've never since worked with a producer who was so respectful of my crazy vision and help me make it better than Brad.

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Song Stories

“Bird on a Wire”

Leonard Cohen | 1969

While living on the Greek island of Hydra, Cohen was battling a lingering depression when his girlfriend handed him a guitar and suggested he play something. After spotting a bird on a telephone wire, Cohen wrote this prayer-like song of guilt. First recorded by Judy Collins, it would be performed numerous times by artists incuding Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and Rita Coolidge. "I'm always knocked out when I hear my songs covered or used in some situation," Cohen told Rolling Stone. "I've never gotten over the fact that people out there like my music."

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